Look down the racks of clothing you see at Sears, Target, Wal-Mart or Kohl’s and there’s a good chance it passed through the factories of Ropa Viva. In business for over 25 years, this textile manufacturer provides customers with an endless array of fashion in a spectrum of colors and designs. Pat Whiteman reports.
When you translate Ropa Viva into English literally you get “clothing alive” or “clothing brilliant.” That translation pretty much sums up what textile manufacturer and distributor Ropa Viva tries to deliver its customers – vibrant designs, contemporary, inspired styles, and a diverse and exciting selection of fabrics, all while maintaining a competitive price point.
Ropa Viva is a relatively young company that began in 1979 when the father of current director and president, Simon Salame Micha got it started with 79 sewing machines. The company grew quite quickly. By 1983 it had 365 machines in place and just three years later over 1,200 sewing machines were busy sewing the textiles Ropa Viva was becoming very well known for. The year 1996 marked a big milestone for Ropa Viva when it purchased its first knitting machine for the purpose of knitting its own fabric.
Today, just 25 years later, Ropa Viva makes numerous clothing styles in fabrics ranging from interlock to French terry to jersey. And, it counts the domestic merchandising giants among its major customers: Wal-Mart (both in the U.S. and Mexico) Mervyn’s, Target, and Kohl’s. It also sells to most stores in Mexico including department stores and specialty stores. Ropa Viva’s t-shirt operation makes up about 60 to 70 percent of its business. Its pants, sweatshirts, shorts and jackets round out the other 30 percent.
Ropa Viva has an impressive workforce of 2,000 employees and has plants located throughout Mexico: Tepeji, Maquiladora Industrial Michoacana S.A., de C.V., and Promotora Industrial De Zitacuros S.A. de C.V.
Its new state-of-the-art facility (about 25,000 square meters) located in Tepeji del Rio, Hidalgo, creates fabrics for garment orders for domestic and export markets. Its fabric production is approximately 350,000 kilograms to 410,000 kilograms per month. This particular facility features Scholl dyeing and Santex finishing and compacting. Its cutting department is located in the same plant and churns out an impressive 100,000 pieces of products each day.
Located in Zitacuaro, Michoacan, Ropa’s Maquiladora Industrial Michoacana facility is a new state-of-the-art sewing plant featuring 300 sewing machines producing between 350,000 and 375,000 pieces in several styles. The Promotora Industrial de Zitacuaro plant is another sewing plant with about 280 sewing machines and employs 320 of the 2,000 total Ropa employees. The plant produces 325,000 garments per month. Both plants are about 4,000 square meters.
“We are dealing with a global market now. The world is very open. We have to be as competitive as possible if we’re going to win in this market and to do that we need to speed all our processes. Unfortunately we sometimes have to deal with the stigma that workforces in Mexico are sluggish or lazy. That just isn’t so. If you want it tomorrow, we can ship the goods. Our motto is it has to be today and right away,” says Simon Salame Micha, director and president of Ropa Viva.
The Ropa Viva plants combined can produce garments in a variety of fabrics including jersey, interlock, ribbed and in yarn weights of 20/1, 24/1, 36/1, 30/1, 18/1. Most of these yarns are available in Mexico but Ropa sometimes imports from the United States. Its Mexican suppliers also produce printed and yarn dyed fabric like jerseys, interlock, ribbing fleece, and polar fleece. It also produces special fabrics like velour and Sherpa.
“I believe the main strength of our company is that our garments are produced with fabrics that we knit in our own plants and we have the experience to manufacture garments in different styles. We can make whatever our customer needs,” says Micha. “We have so many different styles of garments and produce about 16 million units each year. And we are continuously putting new equipment in our plants: new needle detectors, embroidery equipment. We do what we need to do to keep our customers happy and stay competitive.”
Ropa is also fully equipped with a full knitting area (the company now boasts 24 knitting machines) its own dyeing house that dyes up to 100,000 cages a month, a finishing and compacting machinery area, as well as cutting, embroidery, sewing, a printing area, an area for making samples, an automatic framing area and a new quick wash system.
Ropa Viva has its own textile laboratory as well that houses a DataColor(tm) spectrophotometer and light box in order to match any color a customer needs. The spectrophotometer is designed specifically for the measurement of colored materials and is at the center of any modern color formulation, color production, or color quality control system. “These systems offer the highest standards in color quality control. Datacolor is the world’s leading supplier of instruments and systems for color management, color matching, color quality, color formulation and we want to use the best equipment we can to make sure our customers are happy,” says Micha.
Ropa Viva sports its own brand of clothing under the U.S. Polo Association brand name and recently signed a contract with another label, Retro Fox, which will sell exclusively for Sears. Just a few months ago it also began selling to H&M stores in Europe.
In the future, the company is looking to combine efforts with another company that might be able to offer a design component in hopes of increasing business. “We need to build our business over the next three years to double the size in order to keep competing. We have plans in place to build our plants and take it to the next level,” says Micha. “Our primary concern as a company is to maintain a good working relationship with our vendors, suppliers and most importantly with the manpower that joins our company in order to have the best products in the market in terms of quality and profitability,” concludes Micha.